Monday, April 6, 2009

Soul-Destroying Critique? Think Again! Boadicea is Back!

Well, I got a response on that full manuscript. It was rejected. This means I'm now free to continue with my agent queries. That's exciting in itself.

Hafan Deg is different. I know that. It's not everyone's cup of tea, and I wasn't expecting it to be picked up by this agent because I felt it was too soon in my querying journey. Like an apprenticeship, the process should take a long time, I thought, and the very first Full request was unlikely to be successful. We expect that from all that we've read online, and I was totally prepared for the usual brief note advising that this manuscript didn't suit this particular agent - "is not for me at this time...", "not able to give it the energy it deserves...", "not a reflection on the quality of the work itself, but...", and so on. Along the way, I figured I might be lucky enough to hear from people who would generously tell me constructively - why my book wasn't right for them, perhaps even suggesting a bit of re-writing. And, after I'd winced, and licked my wounds, I would weigh this up, and decide whether I had the tenacity to do it once again. But first an agent has to read it.

Hafan Deg is neither high adventure, nor exciting romance; it has no fantasy (other than the heroine's own mental creations); and I never expected it would make the top 10 list at the NYTimes. My protagonist is flawed, of course, deeply scarred by life and now searching for some kind of meaning, but she meets no villains on her journey, and uncovers no evil plots. Frankly, she's not for everyone in today's publishing world of adrenaline-rush-seeking, smart and sassy people. Karen's story is a quiet, introspective little read.

But - oh, my deflated ego - no one warned me about destructive criticism.

For, along with the polite rejection, I received the most scathing, hateful and soul-destroying critique from a "reader" hired by the agent in question. The agent apologized for forwarding it to me, but felt it might be useful(!) and frankly admitted he didn't read the full manuscript himself (because he is a man, and the book is geared to women), relying instead on a trusted reader to give a thumbs up on the manuscript. No such approval forthcoming, he rejected the book. This, despite the fact that the first three chapters (which he had read) intrigued him.

I'm not going into huge detail about what was said in this critique, which went on forever, but there wasn't a single word of encouragement, only negativity upon negativity. Were I just starting out as a writer, it would certainly make me think twice about continuing the craft. Being more seasoned, and less fragile - well, slightly less - I finally recognized this critique for what it is - a poorly-written, distinctly juvenile and very unprofessional tirade.

THis person simply hated my book
. Just as you and I have strong likes and dislikes in reading matter, she has hers. But she was PAID to read it. It was her job. It didn't mean she had to like it. In fact, it was my heroine who generated the hatred. How strange is that? How is it possible for a fictional non-villain to create such nastiness? Perhaps my book has even more hidden depths to it than I thought. If my story bored this reader at times, it certainly isn't worth despising, surely. If it is poorly written, then the focus should be there. But the acid comments were mainly directed at the heroine ... as if she really existed and was getting away with too much. Throwing in a good job to pursue a dream? Trying to reclaim her lost youth? Sleeping with a younger man? Drinking rather too much wine? Smoking pot? Well, really! What next?

Was there anything here that could help me re-structure a book to suit this reader? Hardly, because it's inoperable according to her comments. Should I cast this worthless piece of fiction aside? Hell, no! Donate it to the next SubmissionFail group? No way, Babe! Had the critique given me something of substance to work with, I'd have welcomed it. But all I'm left with is bewilderment. And my stubborn streak.

A supportive (and well-published) writer suggested I take three days to have a good weep and then get back into the fray. I can't do the weeping thing; I've wept too many tears throughout my life over more serious things and I'm fresh out. But, as things stand, consider this posting my Call To Arms. I am, once again, Boadicea with spear at the ready. I'm usually very placid, but when I do 'Mad As Hell' I do it very, very well...

To summarize: I believe my "reader" is of Puritan leaning, extremely young, probably an unpublished and frustrated writer, who isn't getting much sex. Being paid to read is cool, but having to read stuff you hate is a bummer, and it's obviously wearing her down.

There, now I feel a lot better. And Boadicea needs a coffee...

I have nothing else to offer here today, except that I must get back to querying all those nice agents who read manuscripts themselves. I'll pass on their comments, too, if they're not auto-replies, so we can see the other, useful, side of the coin. I doubt I'll ever see anything quite this rude again. But - if I do - I'll tell you about it. You know I will. You need to know what Nasties are lying in wait out there. You need to be prepared for it. Go get your spear...

"I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman..."

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Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky